The Mac’s Marginalized Future 

The Mac is my favorite computing platform on God’s green Earth. I find great joy in using it, but it makes me sad at the same time.

I’m not alone in that duality. Many of the Mac’s most hardcore fans have felt slighted — or even forgotten — as the iPhone and iPad have risen to prominence at Apple.

I don’t think the Mac is a dead platform yet, but I do fear its glory days are behind it. It isn’t seeing the types of innovation it once did. It’s not the focus for many third-party developers, but more importantly, it’s unique advantages are slipping away:

  • The Mac is required to write software for iOS devices. For now. Swift Playgrounds may blossom into something much more powerful that could meet at least low-end needs.
  • The Mac is the only Apple operating system that offers a multi-window environment. For now. iPad multitasking could become a lot more powerful in the future.
  • The Mac is the only computer Apple sells with a display over 13 inches in size. For now. A desktop-sized iPad would be a lot of fun.
  • The Mac offers a unique blend of GUI applications and a command line interface that many people need to get their work done. For now. For most younger computer users, Terminal is a weird app you aren’t supposed to open.

(I’m not saying the iPad will change to absorb all of the tasks Mac users do now, but that in some cases, the very nature of those tasks will change. The Mac is losing ground on both fronts.)

The Mac is becoming marginalized. For many, it is becoming easier to use an iOS device as their primary computer. A day is coming when the Mac is just needed by professionals like developers and creatives — the very users that feel disenfranchised by the Apple of 2016.

These types of thoughts, coupled with a lack of updates to Mac hardware, have Mac fans on edge.

Are we on a sinking ship?

Should I be looking at Windows?

Why would I write an application for this platform?

Yesterday, Mark Gurman published an article that put details to the vague fear some Mac users have felt over the last few years:

To die-hard fans, Apple Inc.’s Macintosh sometimes seems like an afterthought these days.

He goes on to back that up with a bunch of examples dug up via interviews with sources at Apple:

They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.

And:

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power.

And:

In recent years, Apple managers have also become more likely to float two or more competing ideas, meaning designers and engineers must work on more than one concept at a time. In the past, managers pushed a more singular vision. Engineers are now “asked to develop multiple options in hopes that one of them will be shippable,” a person familiar with the matter said.

None of these snapshots are due to an inherent flaw with the Mac itself, but with how Apple seemingly views it.

To a degree, it’s hard to argue with Apple here. The iPhone is Apple’s driving force, and to let off the gas there would be a really dumb move. The iPad — while still in a sales free fall — is so closely tied to the iPhone, it’s easy to see why it’d get attention before the Mac. Plus, Tim Cook is super into it, and you’ve got to keep the boss happy.

Most of the big features added to macOS in the last few years originally appeared on iOS, or at the very least are in place to make using a Mac with an iPhone or iPad better.

I don’t think Apple is going to merge its two operating systems, but rather keep dragging macOS behind iOS. The news of the stand-alone macOS team being absorbed shouldn’t be shocking for people who have been paying attention.

So why is this happening?

Apple can’t seem to walk and chew gum at the same time. The company is bigger than ever, but is seemingly unable or unwilling to move the Mac forward in meaningful ways. Apple’s internal structure may be to blame there.

We can blame Intel (to a degree) for the hardware delays of 2016, but if we keep that up for years to come, the chipmaker may become a scapegoat for Mac angst it didn’t cause. After all, Intel didn’t make Apple skip two generations of Xeons that could have gone into the Mac Pro.

The darkest timeline is the most simple: Apple just doesn’t care about the Mac like it once did. Apple may view the Mac as a legacy business. Perhaps the iPad really is the future, and Mac fans who are mocking it today will come down on the wrong side of history.

Whatever the reason, if Gurman’s reporting is right, Mac fans need to work on processing this change. It’ll make the future easier to swallow.